Statistical abnormalities cast doubt on Moscow’s first e-voting

This story initially appeared in East-West Digital News, an international news resource covering the Russian innovation scene.

This past Sunday, while Moscow voters were called to renew the city parliament, a remote electronic voting procedure was made available to a fraction (6%) of them – in three city districts – as an alternative to paper ballot.  The experiment was presented as “secure and honest” thanks to the use of blockchain. 

This technology “ensured the safety of the process and complete anonymity of voters,”  say the authorities. During the vote,  an electronic ballot was attributed to each e-voter anonymously. This unique link was generated randomly from three sources: the voter’s personal account on the city website, his or her browser and the secure blockchain network. 

“This system made it virtually impossible to track the path of the electronic ballot,” while no pressure on voters and no manipulation of the results could be made, pledged the authorities. 

Of the 450,000 voters who were given the opportunity to vote electronically, only 11,228 voters registered to do so and 9,810 ones actually did so, according to the official results. 

This was enough, however, to impact the results. In the 30th district, e-voting provided one of the candidates, Margarita Rusetskaya, with 1,120 votes. This fraction of her total 9,645 votes turned out to be decisive, since she won with just 84 votes over her competitor Roman Yuneman (9,561 votes). 

The fact that Rusetskaya – who is widely viewed as enjoying the support of ruling party United Russia – received 47.1% of the electronic votes vs. just 28.1% of the paper ballots raised suspicion. 

Similar statistical abnormalities were observed in the two other districts where electronic voting was experimented – without, however, such a decisive impact on the results. 

The opposition saw in the procedure yet another instrument of electoral cheating as the authorities are also accused of manipulating the paper ballots in a range of districts.  

“This notorious ‘electronic voting’ turned out to be just a system of ballot-stuffing for candidates from United Russia. They ‘win’ everywhere by a huge margin,” twitted opposition leader Alexey Navalny

Analyzing the e-voting system  before the election, independent-minded online publication Meduza noted that “all means of controlling for the correct counting of vote” had been abandoned. As a result, “online observers effectively will have no way of knowing if electronic votes have been counted properly.”

“In essence, the Mayor’s Office can claim whatever Internet voting results it likes, and neither voters nor observers will be able to prove otherwise,” Meduza asserted.

The ruling party lost a third of its seats in this election but managed to retain its majority in the city assembly. Many opposition-minded candidates were not allowed to appear on the ballot, which triggered a wave of protests and repression during the preceding weeks.  

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